Environment and Climate Change Canada strategic foresight initiative

During the federal government’s Regulatory Modernization Consultations,Footnote 1  stakeholders highlighted the need for government to better understand the challenges facing clean technology companies. They also raised the need for government to foresee the potential for disruption of existing regulatory regimes. Stakeholders recommended that the federal government complete foresight work to increase its understanding of challenges and disruptions arising from emerging technologies.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) committed to conducting a “foresight exercise” in the second round of the Targeted Regulatory Review under the Clean Technology Roadmap.Footnote 2  This exercise aimed to explore opportunities to improve the department’s ability to anticipate and respond to different plausible future scenarios. Its other purpose was to gain insights on the possible futures for clean technology in Canada. ECCC undertook activities to increase the department’s understanding of foresight and its potential usage in regulatory policy development and decision-making. Below is a summary of some of these activities. It does not reflect views, positions, or policies of ECCC.

What is strategic foresight?

Strategic foresight (foresight) is a structured method used to explore various plausible futures to identify potential challenges and opportunities. It may include activities such as assumption testing, systems mapping, weak signal scanning, and scenario development.

The goal of foresight is not to predict the future, but to prepare for a range of plausible futures. Organizations use foresight to broaden their views of what the future might hold. This way, they can be better prepared for possible outcomes.Footnote 3

Policy Horizons Canada is the Government of Canada’s centre of excellence in foresight. Policy Horizons Canada empowers the Government of Canada with a future-oriented mindset and outlook to strengthen decision-making. Therefore, government decision makers are given the right tools to design policies and programs for an uncertain future.Footnote 4

Applying foresight at ECCC

ECCC officials conducted a foresight exercise focused on a case study to gain insights on the future of clean technology in Canada. Findings from the case study were then discussed at a roundtable with external clean technology experts.

Clean technology foresight case study

Between January and March 2022, ECCC ran a clean technology foresight case study exercise. A working group was created to carry out a simplified version of the Horizons Foresight Method.[5] The working group was comprised of ECCC and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) staff. It assessed potential developments and disruptions in the clean technology sector beyond the immediate and medium terms. The discussions highlighted the following potential insights:

These insights were created to better understand and anticipate future scenarios, regardless of ECCC’s views, positions, or policies.

Clean technology foresight roundtable

ECCC hosted a roundtable with external experts to discuss the findings from the case study. Through this discussion, they aimed to gain additional perspectives and insights on the future of clean technology in Canada. The roundtable was held in June 2022 and brought together experts from:

Participants discussed the need to consider the potential impacts on resources and factors from various technology solutions. Participants also emphasized that there are areas other than clean technology needing action for climate adaptation and mitigation. For example, human behaviours and values that enable people to work toward net zero are also important to consider.

Another point of discussion was challenges regarding the commercialization of clean technologies in Canada. Participants agreed that, currently, there is a lack of success stories and advisors. They are needed to mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs and help accelerate product development in Canada. Also, participants noted that Canada’s specific needs and challenges should be considered when developing solutions to support clean technologies. For example, insufficient Internet access, particularly in rural and remote areas, can undermine the deployment of new technologies.

Foresight exercise outcomes

The case study and roundtable increased ECCC’s capacity to use foresight as a methodology to support departmental work. Both activities helped the department confirm that foresight is an effective tool to support forward thinking by allowing assumptions about:

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